O'Neill credits depth, unity to Rutgers' early success
When looking at the rundown of a team, many tend to be attracted by the big numbers that highlight the key players.
Accolades, such as All-Conference or All-American, attribute to the hype surrounding marquee players as the key components for successful teams.
But when it comes to the Rutgers women’s soccer team, those common ideas and beliefs go right out the window.
On paper, it’s easy to look at the Scarlet Knights and imagine they thrive simply off an abundance of talent. It’s easy to assume the talent begins and ends with a select few players.
But head coach Mike O’Neill and his team buy in on the foundation of a we-before-me style.
The first-year head coach’s style has clearly yielded positive results.
The Knights (6-1, 2-1) have gotten off to a solid start in what is highly regarded as the best women’s soccer conference in the country.
After dropping their first game of the season in the Big Ten opener at Maryland, a 2-0 shutout, O’Neill and his players bounced back over the weekend with a pair of wins over a couple of quality opponents in Michigan and Michigan State.
The reasoning behind the strong redemption?
According to O’Neill, it’s the unity of the team from top to bottom.
“We talk so much about the value of team because we have 30 kids on the roster, 30 players on the team, that have been working hard from day one,” O’Neill said. “… You can’t play everybody, but I think it speaks volumes the players that are waiting their turn … come out to practice and push each other every day [even though] no one really knows much about what they do.”
Throughout the week leading up to games, Rutgers heavily relies on game preparation with its intrasquad scrimmaging. This allows the emulation of a game-like environment with the possibility of important situations rising unexpectedly.
Sophomore forward Jessica Puchalski said the preparation not only helps make starters and players receiving the most time better, but it adds to the experience and depth of the team throughout the roster.
“I think that right now, everyone, when they go in and their time comes, [is] ready, and they want to help the team do better,” Puchalski said. “So, we’re all just working to help the team do better.”
Depth is a key component to what makes the Knights unique. In Sunday’s game against Michigan, O’Neill unloaded six players off the bench, generating 17 total players into the game.
With players like Puchalski coming off the bench, there is more than just the aid of fresh legs to help the tiresome players out on the field. Along with other players off the bench, Puchalski provides an explosive offensive threat off the bench that can make an immediate impact.
In Sunday’s game, Puchalski did just that. She was in the right place at the right time in the 64th minute, tapping in a cross from senior forward Stef Scholz to lift Rutgers past Michigan.
The play was a prime example of something that could happen at any time with any given player on the Knights’ roster.
“There are no gaps when people come in,” Scholz said. “Everyone’s giving their best the whole time.”
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